Armenia’s Administrative Court rejected on Monday an opposition lawsuit challenging a sharp rise in the price of natural gas that was sanctioned by state regulators early this year.
The Public Services Regulatory Commission (PRSC) allowed the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) national gas distributor to increase its gas tariff for households by 37.5 percent, to 132 drams (36 U.S. cents) per cubic meter, because of the increased cost of Russian gas imported to Armenia. The gas price for corporate consumers was raised by 17 percent. The new tariffs took effect on April 1.
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has been among the most vocal critics of the unpopular measure which it says is economically unjustified and unfair. More than 7,000 people signed up to its class-action suit before was formally filed with the Administrative Court in April.
The plaintiffs demanded the scrapping of the price rise on the grounds that the PSCR violated several provisions of an Armenian law regulating its work. Both the regulatory body and ARG deny such violations.
The court backed the PSRC’s arguments, saying that fair utility tariffs do not necessarily have to be low. The panel of five judges read out the 31-page verdict in an almost empty courtroom.
Vahe Hovsepian, one of the HAK lawyers, criticized the ruling, saying that the plaintiffs will appeal it at the higher Court of Cassation despite having little hope of success there. “We just need to complete this procedure [in Armenia] in order to go to the European Court of Human Rights,” Hovsepian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Hovsepian again denounced the Administrative Court for having held hearings on the case under a so-called “written procedure” that does not involve public hearings and oral presentations of the parties’ arguments. He said that made things easier for the PSRC and the Armenian gas operator.
The Armenian government has repeatedly defended the price hike. In an effort to mitigate its socioeconomic effects on the most vulnerable groups of the population, the government approved in late March more than ten percent increases in pensions and poverty benefits.